Artists claim that painting requires plenty of natural light.
Harry's not an artist. It's a rather fortunate state of affairs, since the flat he's chosen for his project has only one window, high on the east wall. The dingy, cracked square of glass is surrounded by water-stained plaster and lets in little light. Most of his project, he discerns right away, will have to be done by wand light and a charmed Muggle light bulb, but this doesn't worry him. Artists need light, but all Harry needs is blood, memory, and two wands.
He drags his eyes away from the window to the empty canvas perched on its easel a few feet away. Four feet tall by three feet wide, it dominates the flat. Not surprising, as it's one of only three items in the gloomy room.
The other two – a brown, shabby sofa and a low table, equally drab and unkempt – are the sum total of Harry's furnishings. It's for the best. He mustn't become distracted. The sofa is for sleeping, the table for holding supplies. Currently it bows under the weight of a Pensieve, a dozen tubs of wizarding Life Paint, and one vial of blood.
As for Snape's wand, Harry twirls it in his fingers. "Well, you bastard. It's about time to get started," he says, addressing the Pensieve. "Yeah, past time, I'd say. You've waited long enough."
The long wait is Harry's fault. He meant to start earlier – much earlier – but it's been hard. Nobody understands the burning desire behind his task. Instead they work to foil him at every turn. Hermione with her practicality. Ginny with her hands and her mouth. Ron with his sputtering, red-faced accusations.
At least Remus isn't there with his reproving frown. Not that it would have stopped anything. Harry shakes his head as he remembers his friend and professor. Defying Remus had never been easy, but whether this project would have come between them is moot. Remus is dead.
Harry spins Snape's wand on his palm and sighs. He itches to start, but his feet stick to the scuffed floor as if hexed. Once he begins, there's no going back. That, at least, the Master Painter made clear. And though he didn't say exactly what would happen should the project be abandoned, Harry saw the fear in his eyes and the tremble in his fingers when spoke of it.
Harry's ready, but he's not, and the fact that he can't pin down why infuriates him. "It's as if you don't want this, you great bat," he says with quiet respect. "Like you're influencing me from beyond…wherever you are. Well, you know what?" Harry stands and faces the canvas. "I'm going to do it. No matter what people say, you deserve this. This, at least, if nothing else."
So, no stopping. Forward, forward, but never back. He steps forward and lays Snape's wand on the easel's lip. It rattles before rolling back the half inch and settling against the canvas. He feels a breeze of power against his face, and he knows there's more to come. Much more.
According to the Master Painter, somewhere – wherever Snape is – he feels the pull of the blood, the memory, and the paint.
As Harry bends to uncork the first of the paint tubs, someone knocks on his door. He pauses, half bent over the table, and waits. When the sound comes again, he recognises his visitor. Ginny.
Her knocks are always the same. She barely lets her knuckles brush the wood. They flutter against it in short bursts, like a moth against the glass of a streetlamp. Tentative, but desperate.
Ron tends to pound at his door, his fist delivering three or four hammering blows before he stops and waits. He never knocks twice. On the other hand, Hermione rarely knocks at all. She's smart enough to understand Harry knows she's there, so she uses her greatest strength to draw him out: her words. As a result, he's trained the wards to Imperturb the door when they sense her approach.
"Harry?" Ginny calls, breaking into his thoughts.
He sighs and pulls his fingers back from the paint. His concentration's ruined – for the moment anyway. He sinks onto the sofa and pouts at the canvas. Snape's wand shivers again, impatient. "Soon," Harry assures it.
He wishes Ginny would give up and leave him be. It's not as though he plans to be at this forever. When he's finished, he'll say so, and she'll be welcomed back into his arms. But the thought of dealing with that kind of distraction now makes his stomach lurch. He's tired of the meddling, and his resentment is bordering on dislike. He prays she leaves before it tips into something even more ominous.
After another fluttering knock, she does leave. Harry sighs with relief.
He stands and holds out his hand. "Accio notes." A sheaf of loose paper flies into his hand from under the sofa. He brushes the worst of the dust from it and finds the first page. Master Keepsay's scrawl is difficult to follow, but Harry's reviewed the instructions so many times that his mind fills in the blanks.
A Guide to Portrait Painting of the Movable Variety, it reads at the top. Condensed and presented to Mr. Harry Potter, 3 March, 1999, for the purpose of creating an unsanctioned portrait of Severus Snape.
"I don't know why you're unsanctioned," Harry says, addressing the wand and the canvas together. "That's not fair, considering your sacrifices. Doesn't really matter, though. I'm going to do this, and I don't think they have the guts to try to stop me."
This time he opens the paint without interruption. He's thought long and hard about where to start, and in this, Master Keepsay's notes confirm his instincts.
He'll begin with the head.
He scoops a glob of paint onto his palette. The wizarding mixture glows with a kaleidoscope of colour, waiting. Charmed to take on whatever hue the painter wants when it meets the canvas, it needs no special thinning or mixing. Of course, for this piece, Harry does intend to mix it, and mix it well.
The Pensieve is the first key, the blood the second, but that's for another day. Harry moves the vial of blood to the far side of the table and pulls the Pensieve towards him. He braces himself, then dips his wand into the swirling liquid, withdrawing it a moment later. It drips with Snape's memories. With Snape himself. Quickly, he thrusts the tip of the wand into the paint and begins to stir. The paint accepts the memory, and Harry chants an incantation as he stirs, sealing the two together.
Master Keepsay's notes don't call for a spell, but better safe than sorry. A bit of his own magic can't hurt the process.
He cradles the palette against his hip, ignoring how a few streaks of paint transfer to his t-shirt. It's old and worn and his jeans are no better, but he's a novice and bound to cause some mess. Best to keep it off the one good set of robes he has.
He remembers how Master Keepsay painted in fancy robes of silk and brocade with a tall pointed hat to match. For all the days Harry observed him work, he spilled not a single drop of paint. It reminded Harry of Snape's meticulousness in the potions lab.
Thoughts of Snape bring him back to the matter at hand. The canvas beckons; Snape's wand trembles on the easel. With a deep breath, Harry wipes the worst of the mess from his wand, then dips it gingerly into the paint.
The magic tingles up his arm, all the way to his shoulder.
"It's time," he says. "Time to give credit where credit is due." He touches his wand to the canvas.
He outlines everything from the neck up first. He's never drawn anything better than a stick figure in his entire life, but his wand guides his hand. Before his eyes, Snape's face takes shape, and his eyes judge Harry from beneath a curtain of hair.
Harry pulls self-consciously at his t-shirt and reloads the tip of his wand with paint.
When he next touches it to the canvas, it spreads a black stain behind it. With a small triumphant smile, he begins to paint Snape's hair. As he does, the Master Painter's words ring through his head.
"If you must insist on this…folly, Mr. Potter, then please, please… I beg of you. Follow my instructions to the letter."
"You have no idea what you're meddling in. Please reconsider. There is a reason Master Snape's portrait was never commissioned."
"And that would be?"
Master Keepsay had kept his own counsel on that. But it doesn't matter. Harry has no use for the political prejudices of the time. Severus Snape, ex-Death Eater and hero (his hero) will grace a wizarding canvas. Somewhere.
And Harry will paint it.
He works until his eyes blur with fatigue. Then he sleeps.
In his dream, Ginny is trying to seduce him. She peeks over the end of the couch, the end where his feet are propped and crossed, and smiles at him. Her hair is dishevelled and redder than he remembers – almost on fire. When she smiles, a frisson of fear skates down his spine.
But then she's climbing over the padded armrest and crawling up his body. Strangely, he doesn't register her nakedness until she's sitting on his chest.
"Do you want me, Harry?" she asks. Her voice holds the same petty whinge it always does when she complains about his lack of interest in her.
He sighs. "I've told you. Yes. But I need to do this first."
The light bulb flickers, throwing Ginny's face into shadow, and for a split second, he sees the devil himself crouched over him.
"It shouldn't do that," he says. He catches her shoulders when she tries to lean down to kiss him.
"What are you talking about?" Angrily, she wiggles, but can't break free. "Shouldn’t do what?"
"That light bulb is Charmed. It shouldn't flicker."
"You always were careless with your magic," she says, voice sugar sweet. Before Harry can reply, she reaches behind to cup his very soft cock in her hand. She squeezes, mouth turned down in a pout. "Don't you love me?"
He wakes with a start, bolting upright on his shabby makeshift bed. The sofa, the table, and the easel crowd together in the ring of light emanating from his one light bulb. He seems to be alone.
But unable to stop himself, he squints into the dark, searching for Ginny.
After a few minutes, his heartbeat returns to normal. He sits up and swings his legs to the floor. He buries his head in his hands and listens to the silence. It wouldn't be so bad, he thinks, to be the only person in the world.
Harry jerks to his feet, wand in hand, and adjusts his stance to battle ready. "Who's there?"
"Potter," the voice barks again. This time Harry recognises it, and fear and wonder fill him in equal measure. "Yes, Professor?" he ventures.
"What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?" the voice spits at him from the portrait-in-progress.
Harry relaxes. He lowers himself back onto the sofa, aware that he's grinning like a fool. "Adding powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood results in a sleeping potion so powerful it's know as Draught of Living Death." He waits and stares at the portrait. On it, the outlined, half-painted face of Snape shifts.
So far, the portrait is unimpressive – a collection of smudges, mostly. It's taken Harry two long days to get the face and hair outlined the way he wants it. When he fell asleep a few hours ago, Snape has been still as death.
But now, Snape is moving. He's moving and sneering and his stringy hair is swaying back and forth in an invisible breeze. "Yes," he hisses, squinting at Harry. "And where, Potter, would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"
Harry's eyes blur. He pulls his glasses off and pinches the bridge of his nose. "A bezoar," he says, praying that his voice is steady, "is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons." When Snape doesn't reply immediately, Harry scrubs away a stray tear. Despite his meticulous preparations, part of him hadn't believed he'd succeed. "Welcome back, sir."
The silence lasts a long time. So long that Harry wonders if Snape has exhausted his repertoire. Harry's only added a bit of essence from the Pensieve, but he plans for more. Much more. Even though Master Keepsay cautioned against deviating from the normal protocols.
"Potter," Snape says after a while. "Potter."
Harry nods. Snape's voice has lost its edge. It's quiet and confused. Lost.
"Potter?" Snape ventures again.
Harry lifts his head to see Snape staring at him. "Yes, Professor?"
"Where am I?"
Harry's mouth turns up in to a half-smile. "That's a question for the ages, sir."
"Are you getting smart with me, boy?" Snape's mouth curls up on one side. Harry makes a note to touch up that particular part. It's not exactly right, and he wants Snape as true to life as possible. Exactly as he remembers him. Exactly as he should be.
"No, sir," Harry says. "You— you're in a portrait."
Snape frowns, and if Harry didn't know for sure that such a thing couldn't happen, he'd swear that the professor caught his breath.
"I'm dead, then," Snape says.
Harry considers – briefly – lying. "Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir."
"I highly doubt that." Snape's eyes shift back and forth, trying to cut through the gloom.
"No, I am. I truly am. I know— perhaps this is a discussion left for a better time."
Snape blinks. Then blinks again. Despite having seen hundreds of moving portraits over the years, Harry stares, fascinated.
"Potter!" Snape barks.
"What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Oh yes, Harry thinks. He must mix in more of the Pensieve.
Over breakfast, which is chocolate biscuits and scalding tea, both Summoned (he tries not to think from where), he and Snape talk.
It isn't the most inspiring conversation Harry's ever had with the man, and though he knows portraits aren't supposed to be completely sentient, he can't help feeling disappointed. Snape speaks in circles – typical, actually, for a young portrait – but these bursts of oration are more like Ron's drunken ravings than puzzles of innuendo. Most unlike the Snape he remembers. Most disappointing.
"You need more memory, I think," Harry says.
Snape's eyes narrow, crinkling some of the fresh paint Harry used to touch up his eyebrows an hour ago. "Am I boring you?"
Harry shrugs. "Frankly, yes. You haven't insulted me nearly enough to give things that comfortable, familiar feel. In fact, you're being far too nice."
"I shall work to remedy that."
Harry grins around his chocolate biscuit. "Brilliant."
Snape sniffs. "I have many questions."
"I know. I'll do my best to answer them, but I want to paint while I do."
Snape ripples across the canvas. Again, his eyes wander to Harry, the sofa, and the scratched table. "Paramount among them," he says as though Harry never spoke, "is why you, Potter, are painting my portrait, and not a Master Painter."
"Ah," Harry says. He chews a biscuit. "Yes, we'll get to that, I imagine. All in good time."
He brushes the biscuit crumbs from his shirt, careful that they fall to the floor and not into the paint.
"Merlin save me," Snape mutters.
Harry smiles, but is smart enough to keep his head bowed as he does. "I'm going to start on your neck, shoulders, and chest today," he says as he scoops fresh paint onto the palette. With his wand, he forms a small bowl in the centre of the colourless glob, and – aware that Snape is watching his every move – reaches for the vial of blood.
Snape tries to crane his neck and is spectacularly unsuccessful. "You do know how much of that to add?" he asks.
"Of course." With a small cough, Harry shoves his notes under the sofa with his bare foot. Trust Snape to want a look at them if he suspects they exist. Besides, Harry knows the value of artistic licence.
He pours blood into the paint until it feels like the right amount.
"That's too much," Snape complains. "I will not have you defacing my portrait because you were too lazy to measure properly."
"Relax." Harry begins to stir the concoction with his wand and adds a blending spell under his breath for good measure. "Since when are you the expert on portrait painting? Besides, what's the worst that can happen? You grow a heart?"
"Please tell me you're joking." Snape's voice has a touch of genuine fear.
"I'm joking," Harry repeats obediently. "Now be quiet, if you can. This first part takes all my concentration." He stands and approaches the canvas, tongue poking out from the corner of his mouth. "I need to have the outline just right. There's no going back and fixing it if it's done wrong the first time."
"Surely you're aware of the irony of that statement," Snape grouses.
Harry touches his wand to the canvas.
It's slow going, but thankfully Snape has a healthy sense of portrait-preservation because he heeds Harry's request to remain mute during the most delicate of the work. When the smears of paint on Harry's t-shirt become too numerous to count, he strips it off to use as a rag.
His sudden action has Snape sputtering, and Harry ruins a particularly tricky arch of his shoulder. He glares, but Snape ignores him.
"What are you doing?" Snape cries. "Clothe yourself at once! What kind of a wizard are you?"
Harry reloads his wand and goes to work fixing Snape's shoulder. "A practical one?" He shrugs. "Come on, Snape. You've seen me bare-chested before. Besides, I'm getting this stuff everywhere."
Snape's painted eyes nearly pop off the canvas. "You're spilling Life Paint on yourself? Is there no end to your idiocy?"
"Now that's what I'm talking about," Harry says with a grin. "That's the Snape I know and love."
"Hate, I believe you mean to say."
Harry pauses and uses a sticky finger to push his glasses up his nose. "I don't hate you. Far from it."
"Potter." Snape closes his eyes and exhales forcefully through his nose. The effect is so realistic that Harry falters. Snape continues, undeterred. "I am… confused. Have you sufficiently completed your 'difficult' part of today's process? I demand some answers."
Harry steps back with a sigh. A glance at his palette reveals he's used almost all the blood/paint mixture, and a similar check of the canvas shows that Snape's neck, the line of his shoulders, and the hint of a robe-covered chest are complete. He nods. "Fine. Yes. I'll answer your questions now." He replaces the palette on the table and collapses onto the sofa. His fingers, the inside of his left elbow, and a line of skin across his right pectoral, tingle. He glances down, unsurprised to see Life Paint spread across these areas of skin. Absently, he rubs the tips of his fingers together. "Ask away, Professor."
Snape gives a brusque nod and squares his new shoulders. Harry hisses in annoyance. "Careful! They're not dry yet!"
Snape growls, but complies. He jerks his chin at the table. "Is that my Pensieve?"
"How did you get it?"
Snape's eyes narrow into slits. "Potter." He draws the word out in warning.
Harry rolls his eyes. "After you died, and I saw the memories you meant for me to see, I was curious."
"Well, not immediately, of course. I had to die first. And kill Voldemort. It was after that when I got curious."
Snape takes a deep breath. Harry watches the sketched lines of his chest shift and expand. He resists scolding the other man for moving while he's wet.
"So you won, did you?"
Harry nods. "I did. It's over."
Snape nods and drops his eyes. "Are there many dead?"
"Yes. Many." Harry swipes a hand over his mouth, and his lips take up a matching tingle. "But it's been a year. I've come to terms with most of it."
"A year," Snape mumbles. "Of course, that's an eternity to a child."
Harry lets the veiled insult pass. "Do you have any more questions?" He stifles a yawn, but Snape catches him at it.
"I do, but I suppose they can wait. Except for—"
Harry arches a brow. "Yes?"
"Why—?" Snape closes his eyes. "I was not expecting this. What Master Painter would take up my commission?"
Harry bites his tongue, opens his mouth, then bites his tongue again.
"Spit it out, Potter."
"None, sir," Harry says in a low tone. "None would. That's why you have me."
They stare at each other. Harry with his tired eyes, Snape with his painted ones. Finally Snape sighs. "Even in death, you haunt me."
Harry gives a soft smile. He has Snape's Pensieve, and he's been inside of it more than once. He has a fair idea of just how, and to what degree, he haunts the other man.
"I'm going to rest a bit, then." Without waiting for Snape's acknowledgement, he lies down on the sofa and closes his eyes. Distantly, he hears Snape voice – "Potter! Potter! Wash off that damn paint!" .
"Later," he mumbles. He drifts off to sleep.
The dream is glorious. Slivers of light pierce his blindfold, but reveal nothing about who is touching him. A hand curls into his t-shirt and pushes it up around his neck, exposing his chest to the cool air. Harry chokes, panicked for a moment, but forgets his fear when a hot, slippery tongue begins to lap at his nipple like a hungry kitten.
He thrashes and the lumpy sofa cushions shift beneath him. The tongue travels across his chest, pauses at the dip in his sternum, then follows a path to his other nipple, where it sucks and licks with equal enthusiasm.
"Ah, ah," Harry chants as he writhes. The blindfold slides, but holds. The tongue begins to travel, which Harry protests with a whimper, and licks a trail up the side of his throat.
Harry aches to touch his lover. His cock throbs and presses against his pants, jerking again and again at each slide of that magic tongue. He forces arms heavy with sleep to move up and around the body poised above him and clutches at what he thinks are robes, but can't be sure. He's too far gone to care. What he does know is that there are no soft curves, no mass of hair, and no whinging, and he almost cries in relief. Instead there's strength and weight. Aggression. Domination. A shiver begins in his fingers and spreads, and soon he's shaking with the need to come.
"Please," he gasps. "Please."
He hears an inarticulate groan and then the world tilts, spins, and Harry realizes he's been flipped onto his stomach. A moment later, weight settles on top of him and the same rough hands tangle in his hair and pull his head back.
"Look at me," a voice rasps. "Look at me."
He twists his head, looks over his shoulder, but sees nothing except the black silk of the blindfold.
The hands leave his hair, slither under his body, and wrap him in a tight hug. His arms are pinned to his sides, and the panic's back, but it's fleeting and has no chance against the lust. The weight above him shifts and that's when Harry feels it – a hot, thick length of flesh pressed against his arse.
"Oh, fuck," he breathes, before a shockwave of desire steals his breath.
It's a man above him. And yes, he should have realized, and no, it doesn't matter. Not now, because that man is grinding and thrusting his cock between Harry's arse cheeks, and Harry's balls are heavy, ready to explode, and he's going to come. He's going to come. He can't—
He wakes mid-orgasm, too late to stop the first cry of pleasure. He stifles the next by pressing his face into the cushion, but his hips still continue to buck and shake in time with his spurting cock.
He waits until his heart isn't threatening to leap from his chest and his legs have stopped the worst of their trembling before he rolls over to face Snape.
"Dreaming of Miss Weasley again?" Snape's face remains impassive, but his eyes cut into Harry.
"No," Harry says, voice still rough and breathless. And he leaves it at that.
The details of his dream fade. Harry yawns and stretches, and as he does, his cock slides through the sticky seed in his pants, throwing a lightning-quick stab of post-orgasmic pleasure through him. He reaches for the remnants of his fantasy, for whatever tipped him into such a quick and violent climax, but the details slide away. He opens his eyes to find Snape still staring at him.
"You have some colour," Harry says, noticing the new flush to Snape's cheeks. "I suppose the blood helped with that."
"I suppose," Snape replies.
Harry's damp pants are becoming uncomfortable. He grimaces and sits up, shocked to find his arms and legs still trembling.
"Need a tissue?" Snape asks. He sounds both irritated and malevolently pleased.
Harry snorts. He should be mortified. Snape's done everything but admit he witnessed Harry's wet dream – embarrassing enough at fifteen, downright mortifying at almost twenty. But instead of shrivelling up in disgrace, his cock gives another weak pulse. How curious.
His legs shake when he stands, and he reaches for the edge of the easel until he's steady. "I'm going to get back to work. After I have a shower. I don't want to lose momentum."
Snape cocks his head, then cranes his neck toward the one window. "What day is it?"
"I don't know," Harry admits.
"Is it morning or evening?"
"I'm not sure."
Snape stares down his painted nose at Harry. "How typical and pathetic. You have no discipline. No set working hours. No schedule. You're rushing pell-mell into something for which you are monumentally unprepared, and in doing so, have isolated yourself to the point where your subconscious is vomiting up erotic dreams of Ginny Weasley. You truly have reached rock bottom, Potter."
Harry's face turns up into a smile. Lazily, he scratches at his stomach. "I told you, Professor. The dream wasn't about Ginny."
Snape's mouth opens, then snaps closed. Satisfied, Harry leaves to take his shower.
Snape's black robes go on and on. Harry knows they should simply fall in graceful waves to the floor, but for once his wand fails to draw a flawless line. The shape is out of proportion. Clunky. Snape lets out another put-upon sigh as Harry falters for the third time in as many minutes.
"How difficult can it be? You've managed the hard parts already. It's my robe. Just get it done."
Easy to say, Harry thinks. But each time his wand dips below the line of where Snape's waist should be, his concentration dissolves. The question he's been afraid to ask until now bursts from his mouth. "Should I paint what's under the robe first?" He looks up into Snape's shocked eyes.
"What's under my robe?"
"Yeah. I mean, in layers, of course. I'd let the first one dry before I start the second." Harry swallows heavily.
Snape crosses his arms. "You want to paint my bits? Then leave them hanging about for a few days for you to ogle while the paint dries?"
Harry's face burns. "Oh. No, I thought…I meant I could draw a smart pair of trousers. If you like." Unconsciously, he rubs a hand over his stomach, leaving a smear of paint behind. He doesn't deny the ogling part.
Snape arches a brow. Harry's pleased to see the effect is perfect, although he did work on Snape's eyebrows for four solid hours.
"I do not require trousers underneath my robes. How bourgeois."
"Oh," Harry says again, and now what little concentration he's managed to hold on to dissipates into thin air. Who knew Snape had been naked under his teaching robes all these years? And who knew Harry would find it so distracting? "Never mind, then."
"Though," Snape continues, thoughtful, "it would be one instance where your 'artistic licence' may have some benefits." His mouth turns up into an evil grin.
Harry gulps. "I think I'm going to take a little break. Then work on the shading for your face and hair for a while. That comes much easier to me."
Snape's eyes know everything. "As you wish."
"Right," Harry says. He collapses onto the sofa. Determined to regain his focus, he begins mixing the paint he'll need to shade and fill. For this task, he creates two separate wells of Life Paint – one of memory and one of blood. He'll use both on Snape's face and hair.
Snape watches. "I still think you're using far too much."
"Mmmm," Harry replies without looking up.
"What are you using to complete the circle?" Harry's eyes shoot to Snape, who smirks. "Surprised, Potter? I do know something about portrait painting."
Harry suspected that. There was very little in the world Snape didn't have at least a rudimentary knowledge of. It felt that way, in any case. "Your wand. I'm closing the circle with your wand."
"What?" Snape looms as far forward as he can. "Are you mad? My wand? That's far too powerful a talisman for this. You should have chosen something more innocuous. Something that holds little, if any, power. Are you trying to fuck this up, Potter?"
"It's all I had. That and the Pensieve. By the time I knew I needed something, your things…well, they…."
Snape holds up a hand, shushing him, before brooding in angry silence for several minutes. Eventually, he says, "I suspect there were many people happy enough to pick apart my life and burn it piece by piece. I'm surprised you found my Pensieve intact, in all truthfulness."
"Yes." Harry doesn't elaborate exactly why that is. "I saved your wand, though."
Snape drops his eyes and gives a soft snort. "To what end?"
Harry shrugs, uncertain how to reply.
"Is that it, there?" Snape asks, pointing down at the lip of the easel.
Harry nods. "Yes. According to Master Painter Keepsay, it needs to stay in contact with the canvas at all times until the portrait is complete."
Snape leans back and shuts his eyes. When he shakes his head, stringy hair falls into his face. "This is folly. People apprentice for decades to a Master Painter before they are allowed a commission, and even then, their progress is kept under strict supervision. What made you think you could do this?"
Harry slams the palette down on the table. "I am doing this! It's working! You're moving, you're talking. You're thinking."
Snape pinches the bridge of his nose. "That's the—"
A loud knock interrupts him.
"Harry?" a muffled voice calls. "I know you're in there. I've dismantled your wards. It took me half the morning, and I’m exhausted, so you're damn well going to open this door and listen to me."
"Ah," Snape says with a sneer. "Miss Granger has arrived. How refreshing to witness her social etiquette so improved. I daresay she's been keeping company with a band of Kneazles."
"The Weasleys, actually," Harry corrects.
Snape blinks. "Isn't that what I said?"
"Harry!" Hermione calls again.
Harry retrieves the palette and stirs the paint with forceful strokes. He makes no move to open the door.
"Please! I only want to talk. You shouldn’t be doing this on your own," Hermione yells. She pounds once on the door.
Snape points at him with a long, graceful finger. "She's correct, as usual."
"You're rushing in where you shouldn't, Harry."
Hermione's voice turns desperate. "You're in over your head, and you're meddling in magic you know nothing about!"
"Is that the voice of reason I hear?" Snape asks, hand cupped to his ear. Harry scowls at him.
"Fine. Fine, Harry." Hermione's voice breaks on his name. It's enough to still his hand mid-stir. He holds his breath and waits.
"We're worried," she says. "We're worried and we don't…we don't understand why you're doing this."
Harry's wand resumes its angry whisking. He finishes mixing the Pensieve Life Paint and wipes the tip of his wand clean on a rag. He turns to the blood Life Paint next. His lips purse together in a tight line and his shoulders vibrate with tension. Would it be so much to ask for one person to understand? He'd been counting on Hermione.
"Why are you doing this?" Snape asks sometime later after Hermione has slunk away.
Harry answers without looking up. His voice reflects how tired he feels. "Because I owe you. Because you deserve to be…."
"Immortal?" Snape drawls.
"Immortalised." Harry rises and takes two steps to stand in front of the canvas. "I saw the memories you wanted me to. And I saw more. I saw all of them, actually. Every single one you left in there." He gestures at the Pensieve.
"How dare you?" Snape breathes, fury sparking in his eyes.
Harry holds his ground. "I know what you did. For the Order. For me."
"What I did," Snape scoffs, contempt dripping from his voice. "I did what I wanted. I am nothing more than a selfish martyr with an unhealthy attachment to the one person who ever showed me any kindness. I am not your hero, Potter!"
"I'll decide my own heroes."
"I only ever cared about myself. And once, about… somebody else. It was never about doing the right thing." Snape turns his face away as much as the painting will allow. He's still anchored by his unfinished bottom half and turning his back on Harry isn't possible.
Which suits Harry just fine.
"I see." Harry keeps his voice even. "So you believe the motivations behind your actions negate the bravery – the heroism – of your deeds." He chuckles, unmindful of Snape's glare. "No. You protected me."
"Again," Snape growls, "for selfish reasons."
"And again, I thank you." Harry saunters up to the canvas. "And as far as not caring for anybody, please remember that I've been swimming through your Pensieve." He lowers his voice. "I watched you watch me. You did it a lot. And it wasn't concern or worry or hate in your eyes when you stared."
Snape turns bright red, and Harry enjoys a split-second of professional delight. He bets none of Master Keepsay's portraits can blush.
"Do not mistake lust for affection," Snape spits. "I doubt you'd appreciate the touch of a dirty old man. One who is a murderer and a Death Eater to boot."
Harry doesn't mention how his subconscious has apparently already worked through that particular conflict. Wisps of dream-memory brush his thoughts and his cock stirs. "Don't presume to know everything about me," he mumbles. He retrieves his palette from the table. "Are you ready?"
When Snape gives a grudging nod, Harry loads the tip of his wand with Life Paint.
Harry pauses. "You mean, you're bored?"
"No. I mean you're boring. Oh alright, yes. I'm bored."
"You could insult me some more. That always cheers you up."
Snape's amused huff blows the fringe off Harry's forehead, and they both freeze.
"Wow," Harry says. "I didn't know that could happen." All of a sudden, his throat feels dry.
Snape appears just as shocked as he is. "It shouldn't," he whispers.
Snape takes a deep breath. The painting ripples. He forms his lips into an O and blows. The puff of cool air meets Harry's heated skin, swirls around his ears and glides down over his neck.
Harry gulps. "Fuck."
The fear in Snape's eyes is back. "What have you done?"
"I…nothing." Harry takes two steps back and lowers himself to the sofa. "Do you want to stop for today?"
He's praying Snape will say yes when the most curious thing happens.
"No, I'd rather not," he says, voice contemplative. "If you're up to it, I'd like you to begin my background."
"Oh." Harry swipes a hand across his mouth. "What would you like?"
It takes Snape forever to answer. His index finger taps his chin in a steady rhythm and his gaze turns unfocussed. "I believe," he says after a long while. "I believe I'd like a potions lab."
Harry slouches, thinking of rows and rows of tiny drawers and boxes. Still, it's a challenge, and he does have both memory and blood left. It wouldn't do to waste any. "Ingredients behind you –" he begins.
"—and a worktable in front. Yes," Snape finishes for him. "That would be acceptable."
Harry nods. Snape is still smiling and it's simultaneously terrifying and titillating. But it's a combination that works for Snape, Harry's coming to find, and his own mouth turns up on one side as he nods again. "I can do that."
He wakes in darkness. Not total darkness, but blacker than it's been in days. He tilts his head back and sees the shadow of his standing lamp – bulb extinguished – and frowns. He doesn't remember turning it off. The air in the flat is cool; the tip of his nose is chilled. But swaddled in his heavy blanket, he's sleepy-warm and content.
There is light, his bleary brain notices, but it's dim. He rolls his head slowly to the side and finds the source.
Snape is awake. Using the candle and quill Harry painted for him, he's list-making. His lips move as he talks to himself, and his attention vacillates back and forth between the still mostly empty shelves behind him and the piece of parchment Harry painted onto his worktable earlier that evening.
Harry gives a silent sigh and stretches under the blanket. It's exhausting painting vial after vial of potion ingredients. To ensure he creates each without flaw, Snape must describe its colour and use in painstaking detail. It's slow and tedious, and Snape's voice has begun to haunt Harry's dreams. He speaks of graphorn parts and lacewing flies and describes colours like they're alive in some way.
When a spark of pleasure slithers up his spine, he realizes he's touching himself.
It's an unhurried, apathetic wank; he's still half-asleep. The thrill is muted, but as his lust builds, it uncoils and spreads to every single nerve ending. The blanket contains it, mixes it with his rising body heat, and soon he's floating in a cocoon of pleasure.
He keeps his eyes on the portrait as he rubs his cock. When Snape pushes the loose strands of hair from his face, Harry's fingers slide up his rigid length and roll his foreskin over the damp tip in leisurely, teasing circles.
When Snape steeples his fingers under his chin and examines his list, Harry cups his balls in his other hand and gives them a gentle squeeze, then reaches beyond to stroke rough, paint-calloused fingertips over his perineum. A tiny whimper escapes him, and Snape glances up.
"Potter?" he says, squinting into the gloom.
Harry bites his lip. His hand speeds up.
"Potter, are you awake?"
"Yes," he answers. Low. Breathless.
"Am I disturbing you?"
Harry debates on how to answer.
"I'll take that as a yes." Snape throws his quill to the table. Harry smiles at his obvious annoyance. "Good night," Snape grunts. Harry steals one final look before the room goes black.
The hand around his cock loosens, then falls away. His inspiration is gone. "Good night," he whispers.
"Aconite is a light olive green. Its consistency varies, sometimes it is thick, other times as thin as water, but the colour…the colour never varies. Olive green, with occasional dark streaks of the same hue. Extremely poisonous and the primary ingredient in the Wolfsbane potion."
Harry nods, closes his eyes, and concentrates. When he has a clear picture of the ingredient in his head, he touches his wand to the canvas. Inside the outline of the empty bottle, an olive green stain spreads. Soon, the bottle is full. Harry releases his breath and withdraws his wand.
Snape examines the contents critically. "Excellent," he admits. "This one looks perfect." He shoots Harry a sideways glance. "I'm impressed you've managed so many. It speaks to your creativity."
Harry shrugs and Summons a glass of water. "I remember working with lots of the things you've asked for so far."
"Yes," Snape says, "but without a healthy dose of creative magic to work with, it wouldn't matter if you'd made a habit of bathing in them nightly." He turns to Harry. "You must be capable of imagining the substance, and you do so admirably."
A compliment? Harry almost drops his palette. He decides to test this newfound camaraderie.
"Ginny keeps stopping by."
"Yes, I know. That desperate little knock of hers is enough to drive a man to drink. If he could."
Harry nods. "I'm not sure things are going to work out between us."
"I don't believe I care."
Harry's wand falters on the canvas.
"Careful," Snape barks at him. "I don't want the table lopsided. How will I do any work if things keep rolling off?"
Harry takes a deep breath. "Sorry."
Snape examines Harry's efforts. After a few minutes, he clears his throat. "Why would you think that?"
"What you said about Miss Weasley."
"Oh." Harry pushes his glasses up. When the skin on the bridge of his nose starts to tingle, he knows he's smudged paint there. Snape glowers, but holds his tongue. "Well," Harry says, "for one, she doesn't listen."
"She can be trained. Most women can."
Harry raises a brow. "I'll tell her you said that."
Snape gives a careless shrug.
"I might mention it to Hermione, as well," Harry says, feeling wicked.
Snape shifts in his frame. "I'd rather you didn't."
"I thought as much." Harry swirls his wand through the paint. "But what I meant was, she only hears what she wants to."
Harry pauses, wand hovering. "Do you want this table or not?"
Snape folds his arms and tucks his hands into his sleeves. "I was merely making an observation. Is that not why you began this trite emotional regurgitation? So you could garner feedback on your sad and stunted love life?" He returns Harry's exasperated stare with a frank one of his own. "Is it not your deepest desire to marry your fiery strumpet, impregnate her as often as you can, give your offspring ridiculous, sentimental names, and live across the lane from Mr. and Mrs. Granger?"
Harry stares at him, open-mouthed. "Live across from…who?"
"Your faithful sidekicks."
"My—" Harry narrows his eyes at Snape. "Very funny."
"I doubt Ron will think so in ten years." Snape gives an evil chuckle.
Harry throws his wand onto the palette and paint splatters everywhere. He ignores the mess and stalks toward the door.
Snape continues, undaunted. "On second thought, I'm not giving Mr. Weasley enough credit. Even a full-blown idiot wouldn't take ten years to notice his wife's bollocks are bigger than his."
Harry slams the door behind him, cutting off the sound of Snape's voice.
He doesn't come back for three days.
Snape's sleeping when he returns.
Harry kicks his trainers off by the door, sets the wards, then pads across the room to the sofa. He sinks onto the cushions and takes in the damage.
His wand is stuck in a mass of congealed grey paint. Specks and splatter of the same decorate the table, floor and the edges of the sofa cushions. The air smells stale, like death. A thin coat of dust covers everything … even Snape.
For a long time, Harry watches him slumber. His head has fallen onto his left shoulder, and a few strands of hair sway in front of his face as he inhales and exhales deeply. Harry tries to remember if he's ever seen a portrait breathe. It's hypnotizing, watching Snape's chest rise and fall. It's something Harry suspects he could get used to quite easily.
The Pensieve memories that are left swirl in their bowl. The liquid – Snape's essence – moves constantly, like sharks are swimming right below the surface. Harry stares at it, transfixed, and for the first time since he's begun painting, he feels a twinge of doubt. Not of purpose, but of execution.
Perhaps his employment of artistic licence wasn't such a grand idea.
He dispels the misgivings. There's no going back. Only forward to completion. He may not be a Master Painter, but he will succeed. He owes Snape. His subconscious screams that it's more than that, but Harry pushes the thought away. It's late in the day, and he's tired. Without even trying to free his wand from the dried paint, he curls up on the lumpy cushions and closes his eyes.
Harry blinks the sleep from his eyes, but stays curled on his side. "Yes."
"Wounds all licked clean?"
Snape's bluster is lacking. He's dull from the layer of dust that's settled over the canvas. Harry can't help feeling suddenly upset about that, and a clean rag from the floor sets things to right. "Don't move," Harry warns him. "I'm going to clear off the dust."
He sweeps the cloth across the canvas in broad arcs. Snape sneezes, waves at particles that he shouldn't be able to touch, and Harry realizes that things are just as dire as they were before he left.
Snape senses it too. "This is a bloody nightmare," he grumbles.
Harry shrugs and reaches into the bag he's brought back. Under Snape's critical eye, he unshrinks a small dining table, a chair, a plant, and a crate of books.
"A plant?" Snape asks. "For potions?"
"No. For…for looking at."
Snape swallows a snort. "And the table?"
Snape folds his arms. "Planning on staying for a while, are you? What did you bring for me?"
Harry places the table catty-corner from the sofa and scoots the chair under it. The plant he sets on the floor at one end of the sofa. A tap of his wand brightens his charmed light bulb and a crumpled scrap of paper Transfigures into a cheery area rug. He inspects his new decorations with a lopsided smile.
Snape taps his knuckles on the worktable. "Potter! What did you bring for me?"
Nothing, Harry's tempted to say, but refuses to be the more childish of the two. "Books," he says. "I thought we'd try to paint them into the portrait for you." He stutters at Snape's glare. "I mean, if you like."
"You seem determined," Snape muses, "to give me just enough to keep me missing what I don't have."
Redecorating done, Harry begins to unpack the Potions books. He's brought them from his own library at Grimmauld. "What do you miss? You always seemed to hate everything. And you're dead, by the way. Do you even have feelings?"
Snape snorts. He shifts one robe-clad arse cheek onto his table. From this semi-seated position, he stares down his nose at Harry. "You never believed so before."
"I meant now. In the portrait."
Snape stares transfixed at Harry's new table. "Yes, I have feelings."
"Should you?" Harry asks carefully.
Snape considers. "I don't think so. You're a very powerful wizard. What you've done here, what you're doing, it's never been done before."
"What am I doing?"
Snape closes his eyes. "I shall pretend I didn't hear that."
"Don't say it!" Snape slides off the table and points at Harry. "Don't even think it."
Harry blows out a breath. "You have no idea what I was going to say."
He doesn't wait for Snape's answer and instead flops onto the sofa. It smells familiar. But then everything in his life smells like paint these days. Harry stretches, then leans back. As a wicked afterthought, he lets his legs fall open.
Snape is craning his neck towards the books. "One normally works before they take a break," he snaps. "What is that one on top, with the red leather cover?"
Rather than answer, Harry places both hands on his knees, then curls his fingers until the nails are pressed with purpose into the denim. An inch at a time, he slides them up his thighs.
The red-covered book can't compete; Snape's eyes swivel to Harry. The painting ripples as he shivers. "What are you doing?" he asks.
Harry turns a professional eye to the portrait. Snape's painted chest is rising and falling rapidly and perspiration dots his upper lip. Harry's tongue darts out as he imagines lapping it up. Would Snape taste like paint?
"What are you doing?" Snape demands a second time.
"Don't you like it?"
Abruptly, Harry rises to stand before the portrait. With one trembling finger, he traces the line of Snape's robe from neck to ankle. Snape watches from beneath lowered lids.
"Well?" Harry asks.
"I can't feel it," Snape admits.
That won't do at all. A bit of artistic licence will fix things. Harry retreats to the sofa. Before he sits, he unfastens his jeans and eases them down past his hips. "In that case," he purrs, "why don't you just watch?"
Snape's trance-like nod makes Harry smile.
He's fully aroused in short order, the sleep-memory feeding his rising lust. Snape watches – calm, but not dispassionate. His eyes pin Harry to the sofa and his lips mutter quiet words as Harry pulls and rubs at his cock, gathering wetness at the crown.
Harry's voice is thick, hoarse, and catches when he tries to speak. "Watch…me. Watch…." Head thrown back, arching into his fist, he works himself with heavy, fast strokes. His other hand cradles balls that are tight and full, ready to spill. "Watch me," he pants unevenly. "Watch…me come for…you."
Snape jerks. The silent words spilling from his mouth gain volume. "I'm watching," he says. "I'm watching." His hands curl into the edge of his worktable.
That voice, thick with wonder and need, shoots straight to Harry's prick. He tightens in delicious anticipation, taut as a bowstring. Then succumbs, his cries matching each spasm of release.
At the last moment, he remembers to capture the seed in his hand. Snape murmurs something that might be approval.
It ends with Harry sprawled on the sofa, panting for air, the fruits of his labour trapped in his shaking fist. "Amazing," he says. The word floats forth on a gasped breath.
"Yes," Snape agrees.
Harry senses, without knowing why, that timing is crucial, so as soon as his legs hold him, he stands and grabs his palette. Snape watches the proceedings with nary a word, which is an epic turn of events that Harry plans to take advantage of. He adds a small scoop of paint to the palette, then drizzles his seed over the top. His wand is still stuck fast in three-day-old paint so he stirs with his finger.
Jeans draped open, body exposed, he uses his pinkie to trace the outline of a white collared shirt beneath Snape's robe, then shadows in the hint of an open seam down the front. The paint adjusts its colour without Harry having to concentrate. He knows that this is very powerful magic.
With the last bit – just enough to cover the pad of his finger – he traces Snape's lips. This time, the mixture transfers as a deep maroon. Snape's eyes flutter closed and his painted lips, previously pale, part in surrender. Fascinated by this reaction, as well as the rich red, Harry's passion stirs once more.
Snape's hand flutters to his mouth.
"No, don't touch it," Harry breathes out. "Let it dry." He can hardly contain his shock when Snape obeys the order without question.
Harry gulps. The cool air has finally worked its way past his lingering lust; he's cold. Before he tucks himself away, he smears the last of the paint along his softened cock, and the expected tingle brings some warmth.
When he looks up, Snape is watching him. "What do you feel?" Harry asks.
Snape's answer is not an answer at all, but a question. "Did you bring the tome that was displayed on the third shelf up, on the east wall, closest to the fireplace? It would have been laid open on a bookstand and turned to page 438." His voice grates like gravel over sand.
Harry stops to think. "Yes. It looked important."
Snape's fingers hover over his glistening lips. "Give me that one."
The faint odour of asphodel, distinctive for its rarity, coaxes him into wakefulness. Three separate cauldrons boil on Snape's bench. He's bent over the middle one, hair a scant inch away from dipping into the orange glop. Steam rises around him and escapes the portrait.
It condenses and falls from the top of the easel to land with an irregular pit-a-pat on the wood floor beneath, but such a sight, while still extraordinary, no longer scares him. In fact, Harry smiles and reaches forward to catch a drop in his palm. When one does splatter over his skin, he sniffs it. It smells of pomegranate and valerian. The colours of the other two bubbling potions confirm those ingredients are in use.
"Potter," Snape says without looking up. "I need runespoor eggs and fluxweed."
Harry nods, mixes the paint, and fills in the requested jars. Snape snatches them before Harry's wand has left the canvas.
He sits back to watch, feeling not useless, but instead, indispensable. For once, he doesn't resent it in the least.
"Potter," Snape says, sometime later. Expectant, Harry reaches to open a tub of paint, but Snape surprises him. "About Miss Weasley." He meets Harry's eyes through a cloud of steam. "It has been my experience that an inability – or a … refusal – to communicate with a partner is rarely repairable." He stirs slowly. "There are those who will tell you differently. You may even find that a mutual effort will ease the tensions for a short time. But…listening is no chore. If someone doesn't listen, it's because they don't want to hear you. Do you understand?"
Harry rolls the tub of paint in his palms. "I'm not sure."
"She doesn't approve of what you're trying to tell her. She hasn't the wherewithal to admit it. It will lead, if it hasn't already, to mistrust and resentment. You asked for my advice. I'm giving it."
"So you are." A concession, to be sure. "Is that your objective opinion?"
Snape sneers at the potion on the left. "Of course not."
Harry had suspected as much and is happy to hear it.
The water vapour finally reaches the ceiling, where it forms a perfect circle of dampness. The old plaster, already cracked, will suffer, but Harry knows he can repair it with his wand. Along with the missing floorboard near the window and the cupboard door that won't close. The worst of the imperfections he'll fix, the rest he'll live with.
He's called worse places home.
Snape brews into the night, asking periodically for this or that. After a while, Harry extinguishes the one light bulb and lets Snape's painted candles throw shadows everywhere. The rest of the room – and what little is in it – disappears when the sun sets. With no moon, the darkness is complete. The only movement is Snape. The only light is Snape.
The more excited Snape becomes, the more despondent Harry grows. He finally asks his question outright, because that's what Gryffindors do.
"Are you getting ready to leave me?"
"If I said yes, would you give me some of your blood?"
Some of his blood. It's been used before, and for far more nefarious purposes. And truly, what was a little blood? Just a bit of what kept him wet inside. "Is it Dark?" He has to know.
"I suspect it is. Very Dark."
Harry licks suddenly parched lips. "But what about your soul?"
Snape's answer is very soft, barely audible over the bubbling potions. "What is a soul, if not your heart's blood, your memories, and your magic? Who's to say, with any certainty, who comes back and who doesn't? And from where? And why?" His stirring falters. "Even the old man knew none of these things."
An interesting and true point. Harry chews his thumbnail as he thinks it over.
"You don't…I will not require it of you." Snape runs a hand across his worktable. He won't meet Harry's eyes. "You have more than paid this imaginary debt you think you owe."
"But have you paid yours to me?" Harry's bold question shocks them both. Not so much that Snape won't answer, however.
"I would welcome the chance to do so."
Harry reaches for his wand. "Are we communicating now?" he asks as he drags the tip across his forearm. It leaves a faint red line in its wake.
Snape understands his question. He sighs, nods. "We are."
Harry whispers the spell, just the barest touch of magic; he doesn't require a deep cut. Warm and thick, blood wells unevenly along the wound and drips into his cupped palm. It's not to be mixed with paint. That is as obvious as what Snape is about to attempt. Rather, Harry soaks his wand tip in the warm pool and transfers it directly to Snape's ready vial.
Snape's fingers brush his wrist before he pulls away. Neither gives this impossible contact a second thought.
He stands by Snape while he works, because that's another thing Gryffindors do. But finally, the sofa calls him with its seductive squishiness and lumpy pillows, and he falls onto it with a sigh. He cradles his head on his arm as he watches Snape.
What was begun shall soon be finished – one way or another. Another debt paid and another one earned.
One relationship ended.
And perhaps one renewed – if on slightly different terms. He smiles and tingles at the thought.
Harry's eyes drift shut, but Snape's shadow still moves beyond his eyelids – stirring, brewing. Steam scents the air. Buoyed by the warm currents, Snape's voice drifts close and caresses him. "Do you want me to tell you that you're a good person, Potter?"
Snape's reply is quick. Definitive. "You're a good person."
It feels like a victory. It brings a smile to his face, at any rate.
"Sleep now," Snape says, and Harry obeys.
In his dream, Snape touches him.
There's no mistaking the voice in his ear, coaxing his legs open, or the tongue on the inside of his thigh when he does as he's told. Snape's hair swings over his stomach, tickling, teasing, and only sharp bites to his hip stop Harry from laughing.
They slide together perfectly. That's how Harry knows it's a dream. There's no snagging of clammy skin or the pinch of small hairs caught where there shouldn't be. Instead, Snape moves over Harry's body with beautiful, slick precision. He tucks Harry between his legs, and though everything's slippery, they have no trouble holding on to each other.
Snape doesn't taste like paint.
For a long time, there's nothing but slow and steady movement. Building pleasure in ever lengthening waves. Harry wiggles, shifts, and manages to align his cock with Snape's. The first lazy thrust makes them both moan on the same breath. Harry turns from Snape's greedy mouth and hides his face in his shoulder.
Friction heats the slick layer between them, and Harry moves faster, arching harder into Snape's cock. His breath comes in short pants. Snape catches the rhythm and pushes back. He moans into Harry's hair and humps and thrusts, and it's mere seconds of this before Harry is straining and coming and adding his sounds to Snape's.
He wants to speak, but Snape won't let him. Instead, he kisses Harry again and again until dreamless sleep reclaims him.
When Harry wakes, the portrait is empty. Snape's wand is gone.
For a moment, he panics, and wild plans form in his head, contingencies that he didn't think he'd need. How he'll apologise to Ginny, and with what excuses he'll win back Hermione's trust. Just as quickly, they fade. His knee-jerk reaction to move back instead of forward is not something Gryffindors do.
One deep cleansing breath and they're gone. Plans for a different future take their place.
He'll fix the plaster and the cupboard door. He'll buy another plant so the one he has isn't so lonely. The dreams of Snape he'll remember in his fantasies, because that's one area in which there truly is no going back.
Thoughts of Snape send pulses of pleasure shooting through him. He swipes his hands over his abdomen and curls his fingers in the nest of hair around his cock before it registers that he's naked. And that he's tingling.
He folds the blanket down and laughs at what he finds. Smears of paint decorate his torso. There's a broad swipe across his left thigh. What can only be a handprint is stamped over his right hip. The paint is still tacky in places, and much of it has rubbed off on his blanket.
A shuffle from behind him catches his attention, and when he turns to look, he sees the most extraordinary thing. Even more extraordinary than Snape's painted fingers on his wrist.
His table's been moved. It sits across the room, centred on the area rug. There's a bowl of shiny, red apples on top. His chair now has a mate.
When the shuffling comes again, Harry cranes his neck towards the kitchen. A shadow moves back and forth across the worn and buckled flooring. One that he'd recognise anywhere. A low whistle starts and within seconds, evolves into a high-pitched screech. He hears the clunk of two mugs. The rattle of a teapot.
He stretches and smiles.
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